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NEW CASTLE Houses had been unlivable



Published: Thu, April 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The owners spent time in Mercer County Jail in mid-2000 for failing to make court-ordered improvements to three Sharon houses.

NEW CASTLE, Pa. -- Two vacant Croton Avenue houses extensively damaged by arson fires had both been condemned.

Fire Chief James Donston said the houses at 701-03 and 707 Croton Ave. were slated to be demolished but the properties were tied up in bankruptcy court, delaying the razing.

He said the house at 701-03 was the scene of another fire Oct. 3 in which the roof was burned off the three-story structure.

Both of Tuesday's fires started around 10:40 p.m. and were ignited at the back of the structures, Donston said. State Police Fire Marshal Robert Ryhal has ruled both arsons.

Donston said electrical service had to be shut off to a large section of the Croton Avenue area and some residents were without power for as long as two hours.

He didn't know if the structures were insured.

Owners

He said they were owned by Winlei-Sterling Property Management Group of Sharon.

The owners of that company are Earl Schifino and Thomas Merchant, both of Sharon, he said, adding that they could shed no light on the fire.

Sharon city officials had the pair arrested and held in Mercer County Jail in June 2000 on charges of failure to comply with a common pleas court order to make repairs to three properties they owned in Sharon.

Police had to use a battering ram to break down the door of their South Irvine Avenue home to arrest them and the pair spent about a month in jail before the court released them after they were able to show they had made required property improvements.




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